A Paris! The dream destination of every traveler I know, dubbed as the world’s most favorite bucketlist item including mine. The world’s most romantic city. The city of lights.
I counted the months, the weeks, the days until my day of my flight from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Aeroport. In excitement I watched french films, took beginner courses on French language, practiced its classy accent and read gazillions of travel blogs on guides and tips. I cannot remember how many times I changed my itinerary to fit everything. Hungry in a way I have difficulty describing, I munched, drank, absorbed, read, listened, watched anything and everything French.
When I first stepped on French soil, I looked at it in another light. Since I look forward to the exciting things that awaits me, an epiphany suddenly entered my mind like a giant light bulb. To me this destination will be like a classroom where the experience will make me richer. Where the discoveries and the learnings about what life is like outside my domain is priceless.
So I gorged on Paris, Lille and Strasbourg like Sesame Street’s cookie monster. I idled in the claustrophobic aisles of Shakespeare & Company in the touristy Latin Quarter, stood in awe at the facade of Notre Dame admiring the intricate details on its heavy doors and arch, climbed up 300 steps to the dome of Basilica du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre for 6 Euros, people-watched for God knows how long during the festive Grande Braderie de Lille, enjoyed being a tourist and joined the batorama tour in Strasbourg where I also got a first taste of the iconic tarte flambé, attended mass in the towering gothic Strasbourg Cathedral, got lost somewhere along Rue des Écoles and somehow ended up in front of The Panthéon, hopped from one street art to another in 13th arrondissement, roamed around Louvre tirelessly looking for the location where one of my favorite movie is shot, rummaged thru second-hand book shops along Seine, feasted on jambon et fromage baguette while strolling the expansive garden of Jardin du Luxembourg, fed bread crumbs to ducks in a moss-green pond underneath Tour Eiffel, shopped like a local in FranPrix for a cheap bottle of wine, shyly greeted shop keepers “Bonjour” and made it a point to say “Au revoir et Merci” when I leave, the only French phrases that I’m quite sure they understood from me.
I learned to commute my way around, decoding maps in bus stops and taking the metro like a pro. Sure enough, I got lost a couple of times. But each time is a welcome discovery of a new neighborhood that I have not read about prior to coming here. It was fun asking for directions, ending up with broken French, “ou son ah.. les bus…ah” to an english speaking local.
It was just days after summer and fall was on its way, making its presence felt. I sat in a pink cafe in Montmartre, observing Parisian women, trying to fathom what is it about them that is distinctly classy, so chic wrapped in their fashionable scarf and walking tall in their fall boots, some with their tiny toy dogs in tow. What is it about French men that they look so gorgeous in every angle? I wonder if they woke up this morning looking like that.
I stayed with an adorable and talented family of musicians somewhere in 19th arrondissement where grapes grow wildly in their front yard and climbed their glass front door metal frame. In the evening we would dine out in their lawn and of course there is entertainment of piano and double bass music. They asked if I want to play too and I had to beg off apologetically explaining that I have zero knowledge in playing any musical instrument and I have my parents to blame for that.
Everyday and everything was more than a perfect setting for my classroom. Each scene, each person I meet teaches me something new, something you don’t learn in a conventional classroom, something you only learn about when you travel.
In the middle of all this, it dawned on me. Rather than whine endlessly and be clouded with fear for what future will be like for someone approaching mid-life and alone, I vowed to travel more. I thirst for more places or in my case classrooms to explore. I entered into a blood compact with old me to break into travel writing and write about each classroom that I travel to. A good start is right here right now in my Parisian classroom.
So here I am.
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